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Federal Judge Halts Trump’s Law Enforcement Commission

The ruling said the commission wasn’t diverse enough and gave little voice to communities affected by policing.

U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Sept. 23 in Washington, D.C.Photo by Oliver Contreras-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge brought President Trump’s commission on law enforcement to a screeching halt Thursday after advocates argued the commission was overtly biased and in violation of federal law.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), which brought the lawsuit, argued that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires such groups to ensure transparency and that their membership be “fairly balanced.”

The 18-person commission—created by Trump by executive order in October 2019 and under the control of Attorney General William Barr—includes no one who has “a criminal defense, civil rights, or community organization background,” U.S. District Judge John Bates wrote in his ruling. Instead, all were former or current members of law enforcement.

“The Commission’s function is to improve policing, including relations between law enforcement and the communities they protect,” wrote Bates. “Yet the Commission does not include a single member who represents elements of those communities, rather than law enforcement.” 

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and direct counsel for the LDF, wrote in a statement: “The country has been demanding accountability for police misconduct and violence, and clamoring for a reimagined notion of public safety for many months following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people.”  

“Any federal committee designed to make recommendations about law enforcement must include representation from people and communities impacted by police violence, civil rights organizations, the criminal defense bar, and other stakeholders,” she wrote.

Bates ordered the commission to cease its work and not to release its final report, expected at the end of the month, until it could meet FACA’s diversity requirements. The commission has already sent a draft report to Barr, according to the Washington Post.

Last month, John Choi, county attorney of Ramsey County, Minnesota resigned from his position on the commission as a working group member.

Choi sent a letter to the commission leaders in May along with Mark Dupree, DA of Wyandotte County, Kansas,, raising concerns about the process. They requested that the panel’s hearings be open to the public, that recommendations from other working groups be available for review, and that the commission have a chance to review the final report before it was publicly released.

Choi said he never received a response to the letter.

“It became very clear to me as the election started to ramp up … this president was pretty much doubling down on this law enforcement narrative that is propagated by police unions across the country,” Choi told The Appeal. 

According to emails included in the LDF’s lawsuit, Tim Richardson, senior legislative liaison for the Fraternal Order of Police, was a member of a commission working group that explored the “trend of diminished respect for law enforcement” and “under-enforcement of the criminal law in certain jurisdictions.”

“I feel very strongly that what we really need to be doing is getting away from that narrative and we need to be listening to our communities, engaging them and trying to bridge the divide together,” said Choi.

In June, more than 70 former and current prosecutors and law enforcement leaders filed an amicus brief in opposition to the commission as part of the LDF lawsuit.

Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and the founder and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, has been highly critical of the commission’s makeup.

On Tuesday, she and Joe Brann, the founding director of the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and a former Hayward, California, police chief, wrote in The Appeal that the commission failed to address police accountability, racial disparities in policing, and civil rights.

“With so many taking to our streets and calling in frustration and pain for a reset in policing and a rebuilding of trust with communities,” Krinsky told The Appeal, “a process that is non-inclusive and flawed and potentially in violation of the law is pouring fuel on a burning fire.”